Neeman: Compulsory arbitration bill to ‘help weak citizens'

Bill will empower magistrate’s court presidents, their deputies to refer litigants to private arbitrators, without parties' consent.

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September 16, 2011 05:17
3 minute read.
Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman

yaakov neeman 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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MKs, lawyers, legal experts and rights groups discussed the finer points of the Compulsory Arbitration Bill on Thursday in a heated debate in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

The controversial bill, filed earlier this year by the government, would empower magistrate’s court presidents and their deputies to refer litigants to private arbitrators, without the consent of the parties.

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Arbitrators would be former district court judges, and either side would be able to appeal against their rulings.

The aim of the bill, which is being prepared for its second and third (final) readings, is to solve the serious backlog faced by the courts by transferring civil litigants to private arbitrators.

The government says the bill is a temporary solution that would remain in force for five years in order to remove that backlog.

According to Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, who has actively promoted the legislation, the courts currently have a backlog of around half a million cases.

Most of these cases, he added, involve “weak citizens” who have turned to the courts for justice against large and powerful organizations.



However, rights groups have slammed the bill, arguing it is both unconstitutional and stands to damage public trust in the legal system.

Lawyers and academics have also expressed concerns the bill amounts to privatizing the judicial system.

Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch criticized the bill as “problematic” in a speech on Tuesday evening.

“The rules of ethics that apply to judges don’t apply to arbitrators, who are not subject to the same system of norms that ensure conflicts of interest are avoided,” she said.

Beinisch said the main problem with the bill is it may, in practice, permit the privatization of legal services and erode citizens’ rights to access the courts.

Legal scholars from the Academic Center for Law and Business in Ramat Gan have also dubbed the bill a “prohibited privatization of the judiciary...[which is] an important part of the state’s functions.”

Privatizing the judiciary and transferring judicial authority into private hands is tantamount to privatizing the IDF, the police and the Prisons Service, the Academic Center said.

Academic Center lawyer Efi Michaeli said on Thursday the bill was about “the role of the state vis-a-vis its citizens.”

“When a citizen seeks justice from the state, the state itself should give that justice,” Michaeli said.

However, Neeman dismissed claims about privatization as “ignorance about this law.”

The justice minister reiterated that the bill will only apply to certain civil cases, while those that could affect the wider public would be held before a court.

He said the bill would help weaker citizens, many of whom give up and cancel their cases because of the courts’ backlog.

“This bill will help rebuild trust in the judicial system,” said Neeman.

Daphna Kapeliuk, an arbitration expert at Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, supported the law but expressed concerns that arbitrators could end up being biased in favor of the large organizations that weak citizens wanted to sue.

Lawyer Anne Suciu of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel said cases should be held before an independent judiciary, and argued that while the courts’ current workload was intolerable the proposed bill “would only serve to correct an injustice with an injustice.”

Rights groups and legal experts have also expressed concerns the bill will contravene the Basic Law on the Judiciary, according to which judges must be appointed by the president of the state following election by the judicial selection committee.

However, Deputy Attorney-General Orit Korn said safeguards have been written into the bill to ensure it does not ‘significantly’ contravene the Basic Law.

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